by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
Questar III BOCES
Prior to the pandemic, the Board of Regents, and the New York State Education Department (SED) started a review of the state’s high school graduation measures. The department held a series of in-person forums to gather feedback to help inform the work of a Blue-Ribbon Commission to be established the following year.
Our region’s forum was scheduled for March 18, 2020, the day that we closed schools across the region and state. This month, SED will resume hosting regional information meetings across the state to gather feedback on what a state diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for every student in New York.
As District Superintendent of Questar III – the BOCES serving public schools in Rensselaer, Columbia and Greene counties and providing services to nearly every school district and BOCES in the state – I was part of a small group that initially researched this topic and provided feedback to SED.
I applaud the Board of Regents for undertaking this long-due effort to review graduation policies and practices (including the future of the mandatory Regents Exams used since 1878). It is time for the graduation requirements to be reassessed to ensure that they meet the needs of the state’s diverse student population and everchanging technological landscape – and revised to ensure that students are better prepared for college, careers, and civic engagement.
I encourage families and community members to attend a virtual forum at 2-4:30 p.m. on December 7. Please register at https://bit.ly/3bF277N if you are interested in attending this event hosted by Board Vice Chancellor Josephine Finn. It will include an opportunity for attendees to break out into small groups to discuss and provide feedback on each of five guiding questions:
- What do we want all students to know and to be able to do before they graduate?
- How do we want all students to demonstrate such knowledge and skills, while capitalizing on their cultures, languages, and experiences?
- How do you measure learning and achievement (as it pertains to the answers to #2 above) to ensure they are indicators of high school completion while enabling opportunities for all students to succeed?
- How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners?
- What course requirements or examinations will ensure that all students are prepared for college, careers, and civic engagement?
Ultimately, our education leaders will need to come to consensus about what the diploma should mean and what a young person needs to know and be able to do after high school.
Looking across the country, there is much diversity in terms of the required number of credits, course sequences, differentiated pathways and other proficiency-based options. In fact, state graduation requirements range from none to 26 credits. Five states, including Massachusetts, have no state level credit requirements (this is determined by local school boards).
Given its proximity, let’s look at Massachusetts for comparison. While the state leaves the number of credits up to local boards, it offers guidance in terms of coursework and credits through its MassCore program of study. In New York, graduation requirements remain closely aligned to recommendations made in 1892 by the Committee of Ten, a panel led by a Harvard University president that recommended a strong, liberal arts education. Furthermore, changes in society – from technology to jobs – require different skill sets and experiences that those used, valued, or understood in the 19th century. There are different ways that students can and should demonstrate their competency or readiness beyond year-end exams. Currently, our students need a minimum of 22 credits – for more information on graduation requirements visit https://bit.ly/3cBpTSl.
As we enter the Graduation Measures deliberations, we need to be thoughtful so that whatever changes are made ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter their background, ability, interest, or zip code. The state’s graduation measures need to reflect modern day realities and best practices grounded in an information and technology driven world.
What does it mean to hold a high school diploma in New York State? This discussion is just beginning, so I encourage you to provide feedback on December 7 and stay updated by visiting http://www.nysed.gov/grad-measures.
This column appeared in the December 1, 2021 edition of the Register Star.